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Teachers leaving public schools for reasons other than pay

Published: Jun. 16, 2022 at 4:45 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 16, 2022 at 6:31 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Teachers are leaving public education in droves. The latest data compiled by SC for Ed, a teacher advocacy group, shows more than 3,400 open positions across the state.

As of June 12, that number is closer to 650 for just the Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester District Two school districts.

Vacancies by district:

  • Charleston County School District: 339
  • Berkeley County School District: 260
  • Dorchester District Two: 54

*Source: SC for Ed

The number of teachers leaving year over year is starting to level out, however.

This year the three districts show a 10.4% turnover rate on average, down from an average of 12.5 percent last year. However, the number of teachers fleeing public education (and education in general) is concerning for advocates who have been pushing state leaders to dedicate more resources to educators at every level.

Abby Watson is among those leaving the Charleston County School District this year. She worked at Goodwin Elementary for a year before deciding to leave.

She says keeping up with ever-evolving district initiatives did not give her the feeling of stability. Specifically, she mentioned the plan to merge Goodwin Elementary with Lambs and Hunley Park in the next few years.

“There was a lot of uncertainty for my job,” Watson said. “We would have to reapply and all of that. It kind of freaked me out so I wanted to start looking, just in case, to have some security.”

She says the primary motivator for her was to move to a district that more aligns with her values. She is now set to start teaching second grade at a private Catholic school in West Ashley.

“They provide a little bit more freedom for the teachers as well,” Watson said. “It’s not so scripted. We can kind of take what the suggested curriculum is and make it into our own and provide what I think is sometimes a better education.”

The idea of large school districts across the state being out of touch with their employees and constantly implementing changing strategies is not a new criticism. Sydney Van Bulck, another teacher at Goodwin this year, says the expectations put on teachers are unrealistic.

“For educators, it’s a lack of respect,” Van Bulck said. “It’s a lack of funding. Really the system is being pitted against teachers. Morale is low, pay is low and it’s all kind of compacting together.”

Watson agrees.

“I think the public schools have a lot of really great programs, but I think there’s a lot of pressure to teach to the test,” Watson said. “We have to make sure that we get our scores up and have to make sure that everything is perfect and it’s ultimately too much. I can’t handle the pressure.”

Unlike Watson, Van Bulck is leaving education entirely. While Watson is leaving to find a job with a better culture and more security, Van Bulck’s reason for leaving, like so many others, is financial.

“The ultimate reason that made me make the decision was the pay,” Van Bulck said. “With the housing crisis in Charleston the way that it is right now and as a single person living here on my own, I can’t afford housing and be a teacher here in Charleston.”

While pay is routinely cited as a top reason teachers leave, the turnover data does not necessarily support the idea that starting pay is the most important factor. The Charleston County School District has the highest starting salary and the highest turnover rate.

Starting salary by district:

  • Charleston County School District: $42,074
  • Berkeley County School District: $40,987
  • Dorchester District Two: $39,723

*Source: SC for Ed

Cost of living seems to be the determining factor when weighed against starting pay. According to BestPlaces.net, Berkeley County has the lowest cost of living, followed by Dorchester and then Charleston counties.

The Charleston County School District has several programs designed to retrain and recruit teachers. You can find more on some of those programs here:

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